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Review (2011) of On Location in Cuba: Street Filmmaking during Times of Transition, by Ann Marie Stock

Review (2011) of On Location in Cuba: Street Filmmaking during Times of Transition, by Ann Marie Stock
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  Book Reviews of limited advances between 1990 and 1993, highlighted by President Ayl-win’s public recognition of and apology for the human rights violationsthat were committed by the military and the National Truth and Rec-onciliation Commission (a.k.a. Rettig Commission); a second phase from1994to1997,characterizedbythere-entrenchmentofcontrastinghistoricalmemories but during which a variety of “memory knots” continued to eatinto the public’s consciousness, causing a kind of cognitive dissonance inChileanculture;athirdphasefrom1998to2001,inwhichacombinationofinternal and external forces put Pinochet under house arrest first in Lon-don and later back in Chile for the crimes of murder and kidnapping; anda fourth phase from 2002 to 2006, during which the ideology that had heldPinochet up as the savior of Chilean civilization was finally and utterlydiscredited by the work of the National Commission on Political Impris-onment and Torture (a.k.a. the Valech Commission) and the revelationsregarding the Pinochet family’s financial corruption. Stern identifies thedominantdynamicofthisentiretransitionperiodasoneof“slowlyrollingimpasse” (3); while it often appeared to memory activists as though noth-ing was really changing in the struggle for justice, on a deeper level the“center of gravity” on memory matters was constantly shifting toward therevelation of truth and the culpability of the dictator. Stern concludes thatwhat caused this gradual shift in the center of gravity was the committedefforts of the civil society actors themselves, those who would not allowtheir government partners to back away from the historical truths thatwere emerging as a result of aggressive investigation by the governmentand the news media.There is no question that Stern’s immense explanatory framework,coupled with his exhaustive researching of events and his extraordinaryabilitytocontrolacomplexnarrative,makethisbookamarvelofhistoricalscholarship.Anyonewithaninterestinthewaypost-dictatorial,transitiongovernments handle the combustible question of state-sponsored terror-ism needs to read this book. Its value should not be limited to Latin Amer-icanists. The Chilean people’s struggle with historical memory, as Sternargues persuasively in his conclusion, was central to the development ofan international legal culture of human rights. It is a fitting tribute thattheir sustained activism on behalf of truth in Chile might help bring otherhuman rights violators to justice.  James A. WoodDepartment of HistoryNorth Carolina A&T State University O  N   L OCATION IN  C UBA :S TREET   F   ILMMAKING DURING T   IMES OF  T   RANSITION  .ByAnn Marie Stock. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press,2009, 320 pp., $21.95. Strangely enough, accompanying a re-released, collector’s-editionAmerican DVD of Charlie Chaplin’s  Modern Times  I was recently pleased 113  The Latin Americanist, June 2011 to discover a documentary by Cuba’s famed ICAIC (Instituto Cubano delArte e Industria Cinematogr ´ aficos) from 1967 titled “Por primera vez.”The 9-minute film, which is also mentioned in Ann Marie Stock’s wonder-ful book (83-84), splendidly captures the reactions of rural Cubans to thenoveltyoftheCinemaduringacrucialmomentoftransition. OnLocationinCuba  stands as an implicit homage to that burgeoning post-revolutionarycinematographic excitement (e.g. Stock 8-10) even while it focuses on amore recent “moment of accelerated change” (2)—the one experiencedsince the fall of the Soviet Bloc. Ultimately, Stock proves to be just asknowledgeable about the history of earlier revolutionary cinema on theisland as she is about more contemporary developments.The critic’s book-length triumph is the product of some 50 visits toCuba (over 2 decades, 1989-2009) and complements her other researchon film, her support of initiatives promoting Cuban documentaries, andher participation in and design of study abroad programs (xix). The workdefines cinema in a refreshingly broad manner as including “film, videoand audiovisual art” (4) and, although attentive to the “cultural projectthat began a half-century ago—wielding a camera to help construct a newnation”(10),notesthewaythatprojecthaschangedinrecentyears.Writtenmostly from a large-scale perspective that goes beyond a pure formalistapproach to cinematic texts (9) to address aspects of state-formation andcultural discourses of  cubanía , Stock’s book foregrounds the conditions ofcinematic production (and co-production) in Cuba even as it discussesparticular visual texts from the 1990s and 2000s.The work effectively mobilizes the concept of the ‘Street Filmmaker’ asa sophisticated metaphor for both the fluidity of post-Soviet productiontrends and socio-economic realities and also for the ability of individualfilmmakers to negotiate the various tensions of working in and acrossinstitutional frameworks. She writes that “Street Filmmakers collaboratewith institutions on and beyond the island and seek out both local andinternational publics as a way of contributing to their nation’s culturalscene” (23). And yet the Cuban streets also provide the everyday settingfor negotiating the complexity of what one theorist has referred to as thefive loci of urbanized consciousness formation (‘individualism,’ ‘class,’‘community,’ ‘state,’ the ‘family;’ see David Harvey,  The Urban Experience 231, my reference). Stock is attentive to these sorts of variables in paintinga broad and yet detailed picture of the cultural importance of works by alist of Cuban ‘Street Filmmakers’ too long to be repeated in such a briefreview as this—in fact, page 24 of the introduction lists some twenty-fourStreet Filmmakers and visual artists by name and alludes to dozens more.Despite the purposely broad scope of the book, the importance of theCuban streets themselves (as artistic content) shows through remarkablyin the analyses of certain filmmakers highlighted in  On Location . The dis-cussion of Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti (Ch. 4), for example, highlightsnot only how the cineaste “pounds the pavement” (151) to garner supportforhisfilmmakingbothathomeandabroadoveracareerspanningtwenty 114  Book Reviews years, but also how the street constitutes the basis of his celebrated roadmovie  Viva Cuba  (2005), which Stock reads as a chronicle of the “strugglefor rootedness facing Cubans today” (156). The section on Esteban In-sausti’s  Existen  (2005)—a documentary comprising somewhat impromptuinterviews with mentally ill people—foregrounds the filming process as itwas carried out through the streets of Havana (208-14).Much of the work’s focus lies in its compelling narration of the waysin which various artistic texts were conceived, produced and viewed— descriptions which often incorporate Stock’s own experiences with film-makers and viewing publics. Yet there are also discussions of specificscenes and images that are appropriately attentive to formal aspects ofcinema, as in the discussion of Pavel Giroud’s 2005 film  La edad de la pe-seta  (197). Stock’s familiarity with the language of formal analysis shinesthroughalsointheconceptionofherbook’scontribution(her“dollyback”to the late 1980s and early 1990s in Ch. 1-3; the “close-up” on more recentfilmmakers in Ch. 4-6; the final “jump cut” to the yearly National Exhibitof New Filmmakers in Ch. 7), a fact which makes  On Location  not merelya densely informative text but also one that is a pleasure to read. Benjamin Fraser Department of Hispanic StudiesThe College of Charleston 115
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